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#PrenatalNutrition: Snacking in pregnancy

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When it comes to pregnancy, the body does not just need more calories or food. A pregnant body needs nutrients in every single calorie that goes in. While we do not encourage pregnant women to eat for two, they should definitely nourish for two.

With food, an average adult needs three nutritious meals a day, in the form of breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, snacking, that is having small portions of foods, is highly encouraged to help the body keep up with its normal demands of energy between regular meal times. This is particularly so for the pregnant body.

To break it down, if a pregnant woman wakes up at 6am, she should have breakfast between 7am and 8am, that is within an hour or two of waking up. Lunch ideally happens six hours later, that is between 1pm and 2pm, and dinner is perfect between 7 and 8pm, so long as bed time is not earlier than 9pm.

However, between those three main meals, the pregnant body is expending energy, whether the woman is active or not, even more if she is physically active, and soon, the brain sends a message to the stomach that the body’s energy needs some ‘top-up’. This is where snacking comes in, and it happens ideally two to three times a day, the first between breakfast and lunch, the second between lunch and dinner, and the final one, which is usually optional, is the infamous ‘midnight snacking’ especially if you find yourself awake two to three hours after your last meal of the day, dinner.

So, what are we looking for in the perfect snack for a pregnant body?
Calories, a snack should contain between 100 and 200 calories which is just enough to keep the body going until the next meal time. It could also be less, but not more. For example, a small handful of nuts, and 3 crackers biscuit sticks makes a great snack as that would be roughly 200 calories. A small bowl of fruit salad also suffices.

It should be high in dietary fibre, this would ensure that it not only fills you up, but that the body breaks the energy it provides down as slowly as possible so that you would not be hunting for yet another meal within minutes. This rules out a lot of what we term ‘snacks’ in Nigeria, like meat pie, puff puff, doughnut, small chops and the likes, all made from white flour and doubly jeopardized by deep frying. Not only will snacking like that provide more calories than the body needs, those calories are nutritionally empty, and remember a pregnant body needs a double dose of not just empty calories but highly nutritious or fortified calories in her diet. Perfect snacks in this category would be an apple, oat meal cookies, garden eggs, a cup of pineapples, 2 slices of brown bread with a thin spread of peanut butter or baked beans

Finally, a great snack should be high in water content. For obvious reasons, the high volume of water will provide a sense of satiety at least until the next meal. Fruits like watermelon, cucumbers, oranges, and for those with access to these, cantaloupes and berries are great for their high-water content without compromising nutrients.

To round this up, there are a couple of foods we should not be snacking on, and they all fall under the category of junk. These foods are poor in nutrients, highly calorific, with unusually high amounts of sugar, sodium and fat. They may appeal to our taste buds and provide a feeling of pleasure as the sugar hits the brain and the dopamine levels surge, but all that quickly diminishes. And not only does the feeling of hunger manifests again, but these can also lead to increased blood sugar levels as these foods can be highly addictive making you come back for more and more. Foods such as chocolates, sugary biscuits, cakes, crisps, and the likes should be completely eliminated from the diet, or at least, kept to the barest minimum. A good rule of thumb would be to indulge in one of these treats at the turn of each trimester, or at most once a month, certainly not weekly.

Regarding drinks, water, low-fat, low-sugar yogurt and milk provide the best sources of both nutrition and hydration. Also, smoothies and freshly squeezed juices. Sugary drinks, processed juices provides the body with empty calories and should be avoided or restricted.


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